Saturday, July 6, 2013

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Story of a life

This short novel describes Elsa Emerson’s life journey: from starring in her father’s Wisconsin barn theater to struggling as an actor in Hollywood to changing her name to Laura Lamont to becoming a movie star to working as a lowly assistant in a hat shop. My initial impression was that the characterization was simplistic and the pacing dragged, despite the injected Tinsletown glamour, but as I started to recognize the scope and breadth of the story (it’s not just about glamour), it became apparent that the story was a little deeper, a little more unsettling than the one advertised on the book jacket. There is not a traditional plot. Events transpire, but those events didn’t build to a thematic or emotional conclusion. Typical obstacles – such as how do you go from being an unknown actress to a world famous movie star were solved like magic – simply go to a studio party. A powerful producer sees you across a crowded room, and despite your extreme pregnancy immediately makes you a movie star. Then marries you.

However, deep quirkiness lurked here, as well as random tragedies: a suicide, a mental breakdown, alcoholism. Things aren’t so hunky dory in Laura Lamont land, if they ever were. Bad things happen, and the bad things are as undeserved as the good things. Much like real life.

Although the tragedies never dig deep, never quite draw blood. They are described, but I really didn’t feel them, and the painful events seem to glance off Laura Lamont’s psyche. The style is somewhat offputting – we never really dig into anyone’s motivations, though I did feel that the Wisconsin sections are more alive than the Hollywood sections. Laura Lamont only feels like a real person back in the Midwest. Perhaps because she is always playing a role in Hollywood. Ultimately this book felt slight.


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